Sauvignon Blanc is one of our favourite dry white wines. This popular grape variety originally comes from France, though is planted widely throughout the world. Most wine-producing countries make Sauvignon Blanc wines to at least some extent, with some of the best examples coming from the Loire Valley in France and Marlborough in New Zealand, where the grape is well established as a regional signature. Sauvignon Blanc from different parts of the world tastes different, though generally speaking you can expect a dry wine with high levels of acidity and mouthwatering fruit flavours. However, this is not always the case. Not all wines produced from Sauvignon Blanc fit this description; indeed, not all wines produced from Sauvignon Blanc are dry!
Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux
The best example here comes from the region of Bordeaux in France. Here, Sauvignon Blanc is the most widely-planted white grape variety. Bordeaux is primarily known for its red wines, but it makes great white too. White Bordeaux wines, generally labelled under the regional appellations “Bordeaux”, “Entre-Deux-Mers” or “Graves”, are delicious. They are usually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon, occasionally with other varieties including Sauvignon Gris and Merlot Blanc. These wines are lively, fresh and ready to be enjoyed immediately after bottling. They are superb dry white wines.
Within the Bordeaux region, however, there is another style of wine also made from Sauvignon Blanc, and it is far from dry. These are the sweet white wines of Sauternes and Barsac.
Sweet white wines from Bordeaux are produced in a number of separate appellations, though Sauternes is by far the best known. Sauternes also physically contains the Barsac appellation, and producers here can choose to label their sweet wines as either Sauternes or Barsac. There are a number of other subregions within Bordeaux producing somewhat similar sweet wines, though certainly without the prestige, including Cadillac, Monbazillac and Cérons.
Sweet Sauvignon Blanc from Sauternes
Sauternes has a very particular microclimate that encourages the development of botrytis cinerea, more commonly known as “noble rot”. Botrytis is a fungus that affects the grapes in the Sauternes vineyard, including Sauvignon Blanc. In this region, Sémillon tends to be more dominant in the blend, though Sauvignon Blanc plays an important part too. The effect is that the grapes partially raisin, creating extremely low yields and very high concentration and sugar levels within the grapes. The result is a deliciously sweet wine with an amber or golden colour and residual sugar somewhere close to 130 grams per litre.
Sauternes wines to try
The most famous producer in the region – and indeed of sweet wine anywhere in the world – is Château d’Yquem, a historic château now owned by luxury goods group LVMH. Yquem is classified as a “Premier Cru Supérieur”, the only member of its class, in the historic 1855 classification of Sauternes and Barsac. Its wines are some of the world’s most expensive and rare. Yquem does not produce wine every year, as some years the quality or quantity is not sufficient thanks to the noble rot.
More affordable, though still highly prestigious, is Château Suduiraut. In 1855, this estate was classified as a “Premier Cru”, and it is highly regarded within the region. Some of its best recent releases include Château Suduiraut 2005 and Château Suduiraut 2006.
Sauternes wines are best enjoyed from a Sauternes glass, which will best express the richness and character of the wine.